“I am a runner.”

These were the words I said out loud last March when I was at my surgeon’s office for a pre-surgery checkup. A nurse had taken my pulse and commented that I had a healthy pulse and asked if I was an athlete. Without a pause, I answered, “I am a runner.”

It’s ironic that those words came so easily nearly a year ago, yet I still have a hard time grasping that reality today. I never saw myself as a runner and I certainly didn’t see myself as athletic, at least not since my high school gym days. I put on 30 pounds during my senior year of high school, spent abroad in Israel, and I saw my weight continue to climb during my late teens and 20’s. I avoided any form of exercise, my eating habits were unhealthy, and by the time I got pregnant with my now 22-year-old daughter, I weighed 230 pounds.

Four kids and 15 or so years later, I lost 45 pounds thanks to Weight Watchers, but I was still sedentary. I tried walk-at-home DVDs and The Firm workouts but nothing really got my heart rate up so I joined our local gym and invested in a personal trainer. That decision has proven to be one of the smartest things I have done, next to marrying my husband (now 28 years)!

I get asked from time to time what I’ve done to lose the additional 15 or so pounds and I still stumble with sharing how I’ve taken up running. I didn’t set out to do it—it’s something that I expressed as a dream…a wish that I never expected to be fulfilled. I would see friends and strangers jogging or running through my neighborhood, wishing I had the coordination and endurance to do what they were doing. I felt the same sense of unworthiness as I did with my appearance and weight. Why would I even try something so outrageous? Why would I put myself out there, letting people drive or walk by and see me attempt to do such a thing?!

In March of 2015, my personal trainer—who has become a friend and mentor—challenged me to try this outrageous task. My fast walking on a treadmill turned into jogs and then short runs as I increased the speed. My trainer suggested the next step was to register for a 5K that was coming up in a few weeks and of course, I argued that I could never do such a thing as I had never run more than a mile straight. He argued back that I could do it, so I signed up more out of a sense of duty.

With a great deal of hesitation, I got on a treadmill a few days after registering and pushed the 5K setting, thinking there was no way I would ever make it through. Somehow, though, I did make it through and I felt this amazing sense of accomplishment. I don’t remember how long it took to run those 3.1 miles but I did it without stopping and the whole while forgetting my fears of how I would look. I felt that same sense of accomplishment a few days after that when I did my first trial 5K run outside with my trainer and heard I did it in 35 minutes. I felt it again when I crossed the finish line at the race and again at another 5K a few weeks later. I felt it at the finish line of my first 10K and at my first half marathon this past September.

There were times that my friends and family cheered me on as I finished a race and other times when I ran alone. But every single time I run, I feel the euphoria of doing the impossible and accomplishing something that was so far out of my reach for so long. When I run, I forget to worry about how my clothes are fitting me or if my bottom is sticking out, or if I look graceful or clumsy. My mind is on getting from the start to the finish, whether it’s a 10-minute mile or a long run of 12 miles. It’s a time when I can put everything in my life on hold and not worry about what my kids are doing at that moment or what I’m making for dinner—I just run. It’s therapeutic, it’s a rush of energy, it’s a feeling of freedom that I cannot and do not get with anything else in my life.

When I don’t run or when I can’t run, I feel it. I feel disappointed, discombobulated, and restless. I get frustrated when I’m under the weather or I have overtrained and need to avoid running for a few days. A few months after I took up running, I broke my foot during a fall and I was sidelined for three months. I couldn’t walk or do anything weight-bearing during that time and I honestly thought I would never run again. I had to start from scratch, with slow-paced walking on the treadmill. That gradually turned into slow-paced runs but I did indeed run again. By the start of 2016, I was back to my routine, seeing my distance and pace increase past my pre-injury personal best, and I was soon preparing for my first 10K.

It’s amazing how a so-called task has turned into a hobby or, better yet, a part of my identity. These days, I find myself reading magazine articles on running in the waiting room of our dentist’s office instead of Parenting or Good Housekeeping and I’m checking the Runkeeper page on Facebook more often than not. My clothing purchases of late are sports bras and capris and socks that promise a blister-free run. When I go on a family vacation, those very purchases are the first things I pack, as well as my earbuds and running buddy belt.

If that makes me a runner, I’ll take it.